The Brooklyn Nets in their current iteration, having only moved to the borough they call home in 2012, are a fairly new enterprise. Even so, the team will make history this evening.
They’ll sign Jason Collins today to a ten day contract (after he clears waivers at 5:00pm ET), with hopes of having him suit up to go up against the LA Lakers tonight. Signing and frequently trading players isn’t a particularly new phenomenon, but what makes this deal noteworthy is that Jason Collins came out as gay while working as a free agent (meaning he wasn’t associated with a team) last year. The decision made him the first pro basketball player to come out while still an active player, ever.
The story was covered on the front page of Sports Illustrated and received nationwide attention, even garnering kudos from The White House. No doubt Jason Collins is not the first gay person to play the game– just the first to come out. As he said at the time:
Some people insist they’ve never met a gay person. But Three Degrees of Jason Collins dictates that no NBA player can claim that anymore. Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who’s gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who’s out.
As soon as Collins came out questions began to surface about whether or not teams, franchises, and fans were ready for a gay player.
Those same questions probably evoked a sense of déjà vu to Mizzou college player, and likely NFL draft pick, Michael Sam who came out a few weeks ago.
Adamant about not allowing his sexuality to be a defining characteristic, and after having been out to his own team for quite some time, Sam was very open about his no-big-deal admission. As he said to ESPN:
I am an openly, proud gay man.
Sam’s nonchalance didn’t stop the firestorm that greeted him with teams and individual players weighing in with both accolades and criticism.
The same questions about whether or not a team, a league, or a series of fans were capable of “handling” the gayness of a single player were at the center of the media storm that greeted Sam’s casual announcement. Perhaps it’s unwise to question the merits of their speculation, what with the state of Arizona recently passing legislation that would legalize discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Sam will certainly not be the first gay NFL player- in fact reports indicate that a player already associated with a team had planned to come out some time ago, only to have those plans fall apart prematurely.
At the heart of the speculation, what’s ultimately fueling the media firestorm is the unknown. An openly gay player out there playing ball — is different. It hasn’t happened yet and until it does, critics will be on the edge of their seats to see what happens, if anything. Yet to view this development, or what’s happening in Arizona, in isolation from everything else would be a mistake. It’s a long and arduous march towards full equality but it’s one set to a steady drumbeat.
Following a recent Mizzou basketball game fans sent Sam their own message welcoming him with a standing ovation.
One fan was quoted as saying:
Michael Sam stood up for Mizzou his entire career and we need to stand up for him.
Openly gay pro ball players are a big deal because they don’t actually exist yet. Jason Collins is poised to be the first, Michael Sam is poised to follow him. Both men came out on their own terms unattached to any team. In doing so they ask the leagues they play for to decide whether not their difference is a deal breaker. In both cases, it doesn’t seem as if that judgement will be made.
In fact, it’s likely that the anticipation of them taking the court and field respectively will be met with the same result:
Both men will play the game that they love to play.